|Your cart is currently empty|
Three women are now widows from a disastrous mine collapse. Alone in the Montana Territory, each need a man to protect and cherish her. Because of a pact, three men will see this done.
A WIDOW'S WANTS: Liam Anderson will show Charlotte Randolph that being protected by a man also means being possessed body and soul.
A WIDOW'S NEEDS: Rachel Moore resists the one man that awakens her body. Once Liam Barnes discovers Rachel's reason for evasion, he binds her to him in the most elemental of ways.
A WIDOW'S DESIRES: Ben Worth coaxes skittish Leah Caruthers into his arms with devotion and a lesson in long-denied pleasure.
"I must be drunk," Liam Anderson said, pushing his empty shot glass toward his friend Seth Barnes. "I just agreed to protect and see after your wife and you don't even have one."
The tinny music of the saloon's piano filled the air along with shouts and conversation by rowdy miners and other male members of Collins. The Montana Territory was a rough and wild place, working in the mines a dangerous profession. Life was perilous at best.
Richard Randolph tossed back a shot of rotgut whiskey and pointed at Liam. "You have to vow, Anderson. I don't want my woman claimed by one of these bastards." He waved his hand around the room pointing out the rough edged men that surrounded them. The other men at the table nodded their heads in agreement.
"Perhaps claiming a woman should be our first steps," Aaron Moore added, his voice slightly slurred. He was the least sober among the group of four.
"Damn time you got yourself hitched," Seth Barnes said, filling everyone's glasses from the half empty bottle on the table.
"What about you?" Aaron asked.
"I'll know her when I see her." Seth tossed back his next shot with a wince, wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. "You're not going to die anyway," he told Aaron. "You're too big, too smart to let Death take you."
"A woman would be smart to keep her distance," Richard countered. "She'd surely be crushed beneath him if he tried to bed her."
All of the men laughed at that.
"You'll do it?" Richard asked Liam, sounding sober as he did so.
Liam met his friend's stare, held it. "I promise."
"And you?" Aaron questioned Seth.
"I'll protect your woman just as I know you'll protect mine."
"Now let's drink to old age," Liam called out, raising his glass.
The other men lifted theirs as well, content that the pact was made, their words bound by their honor, but they all knew it would never need to be fulfilled. They were too bullheaded to get themselves killed.
Chapter One of A Widow's Wants
It had been three months since the cave in and I was at my wit's end. Glancing down at the small, neatly folded pile of sewing I'd completed in the early hours of the morning, I swallowed back the tears that lodged in my throat. I could no longer stay in the house without any payment to the bank and it had taken me two days of painstaking work to complete the one dress. For a pittance. Not enough to make payment on the house and keep food in my belly. The meals to date had been provided as charity by the women of the church, but that couldn't sustain. I put a hand at my lower back and stretched, my muscles tight and sore from stooping over my needle and thread. It was a lost cause to try and survive without Richard and I'd been told such.
You were newly wed, you will find another.
You are young and must find another husband.
Who will support you, if not a man?
This is no place for a woman alone.
I'd heard it all since Richard had been killed in the mine collapse. He'd been gone longer than we'd been married. Several men, one who had only a few teeth left in his mouth, had offered marriage since his death, but I'd spurned them all.
I looked out the window past curtains I'd sewed the week after our arrival. I'd been so full of hope then, hope that this marriage would bring me happiness. It had been as elusive to me as a shooting star streaking across the sky. Random, quick and unattainable.
I'd had such hopes as a child, finding love, something akin to my parents' marriage. I remember, although vaguely and without clarity, the way they had looked at each other, the link they shared, like a chain of daisies I'd weave into a crown on my head as a girl. But the dreams, along with my parents, had died.
I'd been fortunate enough to have Matthew, my older brother, with whom to live. A cut to the leg as he'd chopped wood one winter morning had turned gangrenous and within a week he was dead, leaving me all alone. His friend, Richard, had stepped in and married me. I'd had no choice but to accept his suit and was tied by holy matrimony to a man I didn't love. He'd been kind, in his own way, but he did not appeal to me, to my senses. He'd saved me from being destitute, and for that I had been thankful, but I knew love would not blossom in our marriage. It had been founded solely on thankfulness and that was not enough. Perhaps fondness would have developed over the years, but most certainly not love.
Once again I was alone. It seemed death visited me more often than most, but life went on. The town around me bustled, the five deaths at the mine all but forgotten in the need for more silver. It wasn't Virginia City, but Collins was thriving from the boon.
Everyone, it seemed, but me. I winced as my back pinched. With no man to support me, I was doomed. Skill with a needle could not support me, not with the Chinese who'd arrived in town and worked for a pittance. Life would repeat itself soon enough. I'd have to marry in order to survive. This time, there was no Richard. No family friend to whom I could trust.
Collins wasn't a town for women. We had a hard life, whether as a bride or a whore at the saloon, it was not easy. Men were rough and life was practically lawless. The way the gentlemen�no, they couldn't be called that�looked at me, approached me, pushed even the boundaries of Collins. There were no marriageable women, especially none under a man's protection. Until now. I was easy pickings, like a vulture cleaning a carcass, if I only gave them a chance. I barely left the house, fearing for my safety. I had few friends and saw them only at church. I had no protection of a man and that was well known in town, most definitely among the men.
I stiffened my spine when I saw Liam Anderson leaning against the horse rail across the street. He rested one hip against the wood just watching my house. His hat was low on his head, his face shielded by the wide brim. He wore dark pants, a white shirt and jacket, but no tie like a banker should wear. I'd seen him often, whether it was in church on Sunday morning or catching a glimpse of him as I shopped at the Mercantile. The man stood outside my house, just as he did now, every day, the time coinciding with the shift change at the mine. The weary men walked past my house on their way to the saloon, and I'd heard through an open window the men speaking of me on their way by, the words making me blush furiously and keeping the glass closed from then on.
No man had appealed to me. None at all, until Liam.
Just peeking at him across the street, taking in his tall stature, his broad shoulders, his confidence, set me at ease when I should be anything but. For the first time in my life, I felt. I wondered what his brown hair would feel like, if the whiskers on his square jaw would be rough. If his full mouth ever smiled, and wondered if he'd ever offer a smile to me. His hands, gripping the rail behind him, were big, fingers long. I licked my lips thinking about what he could do with those fingers on my body.
But he never approached, never did more than tip his hat to me before he left, for he knew I watched him just as he watched me. Reverend Pick approached and Liam shifted from his relaxed stance to speak with the man. They spoke briefly and instead of walking away as he normally did, today Liam came across the street, letting two men on horseback pass on the way. His long legs closed the distance to the house quickly before I even had time to consider his intentions.
Startled at the knock upon the door, I hastily swiped my hand over my hair, making sure it was not loose and wild as it tended to be, and smoothed down my skirt. My mouth was as dry as the dust in the street, my heart beating against my breast.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Randolph." Liam removed his hat as he spoke, his voice deep and dark. Without the shadow, I could see his dark eyes clearly, watched as they moved to my mouth, then met my eyes again.
I cleared my throat. "Mr. Anderson."
My palms were damp and I felt my cheeks heat, for once at a loss for words. Why was he here? My stomach plummeted. Of course. He wasn't here out of interest for me as a man did a woman, he was here for the house. I was behind on a payment and had no way to provide it. I would need to sew four more dresses to make the payment from last month and that didn't include the portion for this month. As the president of the bank, he had knowledge of this. Straightening my spine, I spoke clearly, knowing his presence propelled my life forward for me. Sewing would not be sufficient. I'd not only go hungry, but I'd break my back and go blind doing so. It was time to move on, to find a way to earn a solid living. It would not be in Collins. I'd tried to find work, but it was not to be found.
"Your visit has been quite gracious of you," I told him. "I was planning to speak with you about my lack of payment at the bank, but it is not easy for me to make my way there." I cleared my throat. "Alone. I will be out of the house within the week, if that timeline is acceptable."
I bit my lip, hoping he wasn't actually there to have me leave immediately.
"Ma'am, may I come in?" His face was as blank as a slate and I could not assess his thoughts.
At my nod, he entered, looked around the small room, his hat in his hands. With his large size, it felt as if all the air had been removed and my breath stolen. I felt so small beside him, my head coming to only his shoulder. He was so handsome, so virile I could barely think in his presence.
"I'm not here about your payment."
My eyes widened in surprise. Didn't bankers want their money?
He shook his head. Instead of his gaze just lowering to my mouth, it dipped down the length of my body and back up, pausing at my breasts. My nipples hardened painfully beneath my dress and I tried not to squirm.
"No. I'm here to marry you."